Last Thursday, the Panamanian Government closed its land, sea and river borders with Colombia in response to Bogotá’s opening its borders last Wednesday with Ecuador, Brazil and Peru.
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry of Panama stated that the measure taken by Colombia “puts at risk the significant progress made by all Panamanians to control the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as border security and the control of migratory flows.”
The note adds that, consequently, “the National Government has determined to temporarily suspend the entry into the national territory, by land, sea and river routes, of any person coming from the border with the Republic of Colombia, as of May 20 2021.”
The Panamanian reaction also happens within the framework of a migratory crisis created in the Darién jungle, a dangerous entry path where thousands of undocumented migrants on the Colombian side enter Panama on their way to the United States.
Previously, the Government of Colombia issued a resolution in which it justified the opening because of “the interest in advancing… the economic reactivation of our border areas and strengthening the integration process with neighboring countries.”
Colombia had closed the borders with those four countries for 14 months, to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities explained.
The document adds that Colombia proposed to the four border countries “to maintain the joint work… in an expeditious manner, within the measures and protocols necessary for a prompt return to full transit of people, goods and vehicles.”
In the first four months of 2021 alone, some 11,370 undocumented migrants have reached the Colombian-Panamanian border, and until this Wednesday the flow continues through the dangerous Darién gap, the exchange point on the trip to the United States.
For their part, international organizations report that, in the last four years, more than 46,500 people, including 1,240 children and adolescents, have traveled through this jungle in very difficult situations.
After the health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, mobility restrictions and border closures, the volume of migrants decreased, but it revived in January of this year.
Hoy fui hasta la zona fronteriza en Darién, donde llegan los emigrantes irregulares desde Colombia. Escuché de primera mano sus testimonios. Este es un problema regional y global que requiere una solución integral y coordinación internacional. pic.twitter.com/jKGYkocb9y
— ErikaMouynes (@ErikaMouynes) April 26, 2021
Colombia and Panama share the Darién, which occupies an area of 574,000 hectares and is one of the most dangerous migratory routes in the world.
The area is a mountainous terrain with wild fauna, insects, and turbulent rivers that are difficult to wade through. The zone is also notorious for a high presence of criminal activity.
Central America is preparing a protocol to facilitate transit to the imminent increase in the migratory flow on its trip to the United States, said officials of the Organización Internacional para las Migraciones, who alerted that the increase is seasonal and responds to the regional dry weather that is about to end.
Las condiciones extremas del Darién son devastadoras para las personas migrantes y refugiadas, quienes se enfrentan a violaciones a los derechos humanos, asaltos, tráfico de personas, agresiones sexuales, y presencia de grupos armados. Leer más ? https://t.co/mHCf9O3KbA pic.twitter.com/FBbU1A1shs
— NRC América Latina (@NRC_LAC) April 26, 2021
Panama has 372,221 cases and 6,305 deaths of people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. After two strong waves of the pandemic, it now shows some control with a positivity rate of 5 percent and a reduction in the death rate.
Crossing El Darién toward Panamá
The Darién jungle is known as one of the most dangerous crossings on the border between Colombia and Panama. This passage in the jungle is considered one of the most dangerous routes for irregular migration in the world, not only because of its characteristics of a tropical forest but also because there is a presence of organized crime groups such as drug traffickers and guerrillas.
Some migrants who managed to enter Panamanian territory expressed their concern with local authorities, since other people who came with them had left more than 10 days ago to try to cross the Darién to enter Panama through the border and had not managed to reach their destination,” reported a Panamanian official in a recent statement.
El DG @orielortega1 la Canciller de la República @ErikaMouynes y el Procurador de la República Javier Caraballo @PGN_PANAMA; hicieron un recorrido en Darién y verificaron la situación de flujos migratorios irregulares, con el fin de mejorar la calidad de recepción migratoria. pic.twitter.com/ApR0zSVjVl
— SENAFRONT PANAMÁ (@senafrontpanama) April 27, 2021
From January to the end of April of this year, 11,370 migrants arrived in the Darién province in an irregular manner by crossing the thick jungle on the border with Colombia, according to figures from the National Migration Service.
In April alone, 5,818 migrants arrived at the border posts.
Trapped in the Jungle
The ombudsman, Eduardo Leblanc said that in light of this scenario and of Panama’s announcement of the closure of the land, sea and river borders with Colombia, it is now necessary to establish mechanisms for the care of those migrants trapped in the jungle who will not be able to enter the country.
Leblanc revealed that a meeting has been called with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to address the issue. The official estimated that this migrant population should be welcomed due to the risk to their physical integrity and that of their families.
Most of those who have arrived are men (7,555). The rest corresponds to women and children. The vast majority (8,640) come from the Caribbean islands, particularly Haiti and Cuba. Meanwhile, some 1,215 arrived from South America and the rest from other regions.
On May 20, security was strengthened throughout the border area of Panama with Colombia, after the Colombian authorities reopened their land, area and maritime borders, which they had been closed for more than a year, due to the pandemic of the Covid-19.
The Minister of Public Security, Juan Manuel Pino, issued instructions to the National Border Service and the National Air Naval Service to comply with Executive Decree 771, which orders that the areas of rivers, coasts and the jungle of the Darién province.
In recent weeks, the Panamanian authorities intercepted citizens of India, Ecuador and Cuba as they were led by alleged human traffickers or coyotes through a sector of the Darién province.
Thousands of migrants from various countries are entering the border between Panama and Colombia moved by international criminal networks that cross several South American countries with North America as their destination. Through intricate networks, they cross the 266 km jungle corridor between Colombia and Panama without terrestrial communication routes.
Panama will build a modular camp to receive 544 temporary migrants in the Darien. The Immigration authorities of Panama are preparing for the arrival of more migrants. The camp, which will cost $ 1.9 million and will be built by Smartbrix Central America, will have 272 cabins for a total of 544 people. Panama has 475 migrants in the Gualaca shelter, mostly of Haitian nationality, with children.
The Inter-American Court will evaluate Panama’s response to the case of stranded migrants from La Peñita and Lajas Blancas, Darién. The Court (IACHR) will hold a hearing this Thursday to evaluate the response of the Panamanian State to the situation of thousands of migrants who were stranded with the closing of borders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The closure of borders in Central America caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as of March 2020, led thousands of migrants of various nationalities, mainly Haitians, who had the objective of moving to the United States, to become stranded in countries such as Panama and Costa Rica.
“Effective international cooperation is urgently needed to address the circumstances of millions of migrants stranded worldwide due to mobility restrictions imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19,” reports the IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration that works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners.
Soledad Quartucci | Latina Republic
Dr. Soledad Quartucci is the founder and CEO of Latina Republic, a 501(C)3 California-based nonprofit organization. Latina Republic is a reporting, research, advocacy and charitable organization advancing human rights in the Americas. We fill the void in coverage of urgent social, political, human rights, economic and gender inequalities affecting the Americas. Through our allies in Latin America, we highlight contributions, heritage, history, leadership and innovation. Latina Republic reports on stories that integrate local strategies to the betterment of the region. We make space for and empower unheard voices and celebrate the rich histories of Latin America.